Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Black In America Part 2 Pathology Preamble Continues: Be Like Those "Good Africans" and You Too Will Achieve Greatness and Success

CNN continues to prime us with the preamble to its pathology parade that is Black In America Part 2. Today's installment, "Continental Divide Separates Africans, African-Americans" focuses on the differences between "Africans" and "African-Americans." This piece purports to provide some insight into the the ethnicization of Black America. Now, this isn't to say that there are not real differences between the various elements of the Black Diaspora and that these conversations need to occur. But, in much the same way that the model minority myth is used to position "Asians" against blacks and other minority groups, Africans are now the "good" blacks. Here, in comparison to black Americans, Africans are high-achieving, apolitical, well-behaved, not disruptive, and particularly appreciative of the opportunities America provides to its immigrants.

Gordon and I always argue about this, but I don't feel a particular kinship to Africa or to Africans (as my mother says "those people sold us into slavery!"). I am a proud Black American and have always found the imagined dreams of mother Africa to be so much semi-productive Afrocentric fantasy. Ultimately, we have so much of our own history to be proud of here--in particular our struggle to recuperate American democracy and culture--that I don't feel a need to look afar for inspiration or belonging.

Notice, I did not say ambivalence or hostility. Nor, do I assert that Africa should be separate from our study of the "Black Experience." I also would not suggest that the Black Freedom Struggle was/is not a story best told through a lens of international influence and cross-fertilization. Simply put, ethnicity matters among Black folks, even while race continues to be a trump card.

Some questions:

1. How alike or different are Black Americans and black Africans? How does ethnicity complicate our relationships? How do folks from the Caribbean fit into all of this?

2. What are the lessons of race in America that black immigrants from Africa are resistant to learning?

3. Should black immigrants to the United States be eligible for affirmative action programs designed to ameliorate the historical disadvantages afflicted upon black Americans in education and the labor market? Is the admission of black immigrants to colleges and universities through these programs a betrayal of their intent and design? Are black Americans, in particular young black men, being excluded from opportunities in higher education, because ethnic blacks are now over-represented at elite institutions such as Harvard?

4. For those of you in higher education: what are the dynamics on your campus between native born black Americans and those from Africa and the Caribbean? Is there tension, cooperation, or collaboration? Is there one black student organization or are there many? Does this hinder the progress of black students on your campus or does it improve the campus climate for students of color?

5. Second higher education related question: what is the worst example of manipulating the racial bureaucracy (as I like to call it) which you have witnessed? I have seen white South-Africans awarded scholarships intended for African-Americans. I have also seen white North Africans play the system for their own gain where upon arrival on campus they assimilate/disappear into an undifferentiated mass of White students.

Some excerpts:

1. N'daw emigrated from Dakar, Senegal, in 2001. She works in a hair-braiding salon and has met African-Americans who share her values of hard work and family, but in most cases, "we are raised differently, taught different values and held up to a different moral code."

2. If the Western media are doing Africans no favors, then the African media are also a disservice to African-Americans because it portrays them as criminals, some immigrants say. Sandi Litia, 19, a Piney Woods graduate from Limulunga, Zambia, said she was initially scared of African-Americans because the African media show them "wearing clothes like gangsters and killing each other." Nkosi concurred that African media "made it seem as if they were these aggressive people that did nothing constructive with their lives except occupy prison space."

3. Chinedu Ezeamuzie, 21, of Athens, Georgia, arrived in 2003. He had spent the majority of his life in Jabriya, Kuwait, and came to the U.S. to pursue his education.

The recent Georgia Tech graduate said he considers himself Nigerian because his parents -- both from the village of Uga -- instilled in their four children strong Nigerian values of family, community, spirituality and self-betterment. In Athens, Ezeamuzie found his ideals at odds with those who shared his skin color at Clarke Central High School, his first stint in a public school.On his first day, he donned khakis, a button-down dress shirt and nice leather shoes. He caught the African-Americans' attention upon stepping into the cafeteria, he said.

"They give me the look," he said. "Why is this guy dressed like the white folks, like the preppy guys?"

He found clothes akin to what he saw many African-Americans wearing --- baggy pants and an oversized T-shirt. He relaxed his British-trained tongue and tried out for the basketball team, the 6-foot-5 Ezeamuzie said.

Ezeamuzie recalled finding himself more confused by his experience with some African-Americans: Why were they so cliquish? Why did they mock students for being intelligent? Why were they homophobic and bent on using the n-word? Why did every conversation seem to involve drugs, girls or materialism?

"They kind of accepted me. They saw me a little differently, but I was thinking this is a very narrow mindset," Ezeamuzie said.

4. Ezeamuzie and other Africans say they feel African-Americans too often dwell on slavery and the racism that has persisted for more than a century since the Emancipation Proclamation.

"We have all been tortured," said iReporter Vera Ezimora, 24, a Nigerian student living in Baltimore, Maryland. "Now that we are free, holding on to the sins of white men who have long died and gone to meet their maker is more torture than anything we have suffered."

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Social Science in Action: Jay-Z versus the Game as a Model for International Relations Theory

I have been trying to attentively watch the Sotomayor hearings, but they are (yawn...) quite a snooze fest. Hopefully, there will be some fireworks when aggrieved White man of the year Frank Ricci gives his testimony later in the week.

In keeping with my summer tradition of bringing you random discoveries from these Internets, here is an article from that most respected of beltway publications, Foreign Policy. The topic: the beef between Jay-Z and the Game as a treatise on statecraft; the balance of soft-power versus hard power; and the limits of American hegemony.

I am moved, yet remain undecided. Is this a genius piece of work or a slapdash analogy which is such a reach that it doesn't really merit comment?

Some choice excerpts from Jay-Z vs. the Game: Lessons for the American Primacy Debate--

"See, Jay-Z (Shawn Carter) is the closest thing to a hegemon which the rap world has known for a long time. He's #1 on the Forbes list of the top earning rappers. He has an unimpeachable reputation, both artistic and commercial, and has produced some of the all-time best (and best-selling) hip hop albums including standouts Reasonable Doubt, The Blueprint and the Black Album. He spent several successful years as the CEO of Def Jam Records before buying out his contract a few months ago to release his new album on his own label. And he's got Beyonce. Nobody, but nobody, in the hip hop world has his combination of hard power and soft power. If there be hegemony, then this is it. Heck, when he tried to retire after the Black Album, he found himself dragged back into the game (shades of America's inward turn during the Clinton years?)."

"But the limits on his ability to use this power recalls the debates about U.S. primacy. Should he use this power to its fullest extent, as neo-conservatives would advise, imposing his will to reshape the world, forcing others to adapt to his values and leadership? Or should he fear a backlash against the unilateral use of power..."

"The changes in Jay-Z's approach over the years suggest that he recognizes the realist and liberal logic... but is sorely tempted by the neo-conservative impulse. Back when he was younger, Jay-Z was a merciless, ruthless killer in the "beefs" which define hip hop politics. He never would have gotten to the top without that. But since then he's changed his style and has instead largely chosen to stand above the fray. As Jay-Z got older and more powerful, the marginal benefits of such battles declined and the costs increased even as the number of would-be rivals escalated. Just as the U.S. attracts resentment and rhetorical anti-Americanism simply by virtue of being on top, so did Jay-Z attract a disproportionate number of attackers. "I got beefs with like a hundred children" he bragged/complained on one track.."

"So what does Jay-Z do? If he hits back hard in public, the Game will gain in publicity even if he loses... the classic problem of a great power confronted by a smaller annoying challenger. And given his demonstrated skills and talent, and his track record against G-Unit, the Game may well score some points. At the least, it would bring Jay-Z down to his level -- bogging him down in an asymmetric war negating the hegemon's primary advantages. If Jay-Z tries to use his structural power to kill Game's career (block him from releasing albums or booking tour dates or appearing at the Grammy Awards), it could be seen as a wimpy and pathetic operation -- especially since it would be exposed on Twitter and the hip hop blogs."

"The Realist advice? His best hope is probably to sit back and let the Game self-destruct, something of which he's quite capable (he's already backing away from the hit on Beyonce) -- while working behind the scenes to maintain his own alliance structure and to prevent any defections over to the Game's camp."

Monday, July 13, 2009

Tne Barack Obama Effect Reaches Down to Alligator, Mississippi

"A tiny Mississippi delta town has elected its first black mayor after the white incumbent, unopposed for 30 years, faced a young challenger inspired by President Barack Obama's feat in winning the White House."

"Be afraid, be very afraid." I suggest that the new mayor of Alligator, Mississippi find a good PR or image consultant before he poses for another photo op.

In the 1980's, there was the Jesse Jackson effect. In the 1990's it seems that there is the Barack Obama effect.

My favorite excerpt:

"Some youngsters ran into Mr Fava’s store to taunt him. 'They was pulling down their pants, shouting, ’Kiss my black ass, because we got a black mayor’, swinging their things around and throwing stuff,' said Jennifer Green, 31, a black mother of 10."

This is democracy in full bloom my friends! From the mass mayhem of Jacksonian democracy and a bacchanal at the White House, to young black boys swinging their penises in the face of a (now) deposed white mayor, we have finally reached the promised land of American democracy. Let freedom ring! Good God almighty, let freedom ring!

Some Questions:

Is this a happy story or is it a sad story? Does this community have any other options? Did any of you grow up in a small, rural community such as this? Are things really that bad? How many different Americas are there? Are we that dependent on the federal government and entitlement programs that bringing home the bacon is all that matters--or has ever mattered--in American politics? Am I a bad person for laughing uproariously at the thought of a bunch of black kids showing they ashy behinds to the former mayor of Alligator, Mississippi?

From the Telegraph UK:

Down the Mississippi: Barack Obama effect ends white rule in Deep South town

In a shock result in Alligator (population 220), Tommie “Tomaso” Brown, 38, defeated Robert Fava, the mayor since 1979, owner of the general store and once his opponent’s boss, by 37 votes to 27.

Mr Brown’s surprise victory was a milestone for Alligator, which is named after the curving lake nearby rather than the alligators that once occupied it. Although the only three businesses in the shrinking, tumble-down town are run by whites, three-quarters of the population is now black.

"They wanted a black mayor,” said a philosophical Mr Fava, 71. “Another Obama - I think that’s what brought it on. I ran on ’30 years of dedicated service’ and he ran on ’Change’. He promised a swimming pool and a recreation centre, which he can’t do.

"He beat me by 10 votes because he had enough family folks to put him in. But we get along good. He used to work here at the store and there ain’t no problems between us. They were ready for a change and I was too - it’s a weight off my mind.”

Alligator, some 90 miles south of Memphis, was once a thriving town whose population swelled to more than 1,000. Its economic backbone was provided by European immigrants, especially Italians, who came to work on the plantations in the Deep South’s fertile Mississippi delta at the start of the 20th Century.

In the 1920s, the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley railroad ran eight trains a day that stopped at Alligator, dropping off and picking up salesmen who would gamble all day in the town’s Gibson Hotel, built in 1897.

Other visitors would arrive on boats that plied the Mississippi river from Memphis to New Orleans, transporting timber and grain as well as people. Blacks would play the blues along the town’s Front Street and labour in the fields but everything was run by the whites.

A yellowing newspaper cutting in Mr Fava’s store tells how Alligator once boasted “two schools, two churches, 16 brick store buildings, two blacksmith shops, two lumber yards, two doctors’ offices...and three modernly-equipped gins.”

The trains stopped in the 1950s and the hotel closed down around the same time and was demolished. Trailer homes now occupy the space where it once stood, one of them lived in by Mr Brown, who works as a cashier at the Fitzgeralds Casino in nearby Robinsonville.

Most of the old store fronts are boarded up and grass grows on the pavements. Vacant buildings have been broken into and vandalised. The alligators in the lake have also gone, chased out by beavers whose dams now have to be blown up by farmers because they cause fields to flood.

All that remains of the town’s once teeming commercial activity is Mr Fava’s Mary Ann’s Country Store, named after his wife; Gator’s grocery and diner owned by his younger brother Ronnie; and Bruno’s liquor and convenience store owned by his cousin Vito Sbravati.

Though some work in the casinos and on the Mississippi boats, most Alligator residents are farm workers, producing corn, beans, cotton and rice that is shipped the 350 miles down the river to New Orleans, from where it is exported.

Mr Brown was the first black man ever to stand for Mayor of Alligator and it took Mr Obama’s election to galvanise him into action. “Obama was a major influence on everybody,” he said, almost drowned out by the chirping of crickets in the sweltering afternoon heat. “He inspired me. I’m not going to take that from him.

"After 30 years, I didn’t think an African-American would be able to be mayor. I didn’t think the position was open to me. When he won, I decided that I knew the changes that needed to be made here and I thought that I could make those changes.

"If we don’t look after our youth, what do we have? The population is dying out and I want more people here. I want better living conditions.

I just want the people to be comfortable. Small towns like this depend on government funding and that’s what we’re seeking.

"I mingle with a lot of the young kids here in the community because if you deal with the people and their problems you understand more what’s going on if you’re out with them.”

The town’s facilities were substandard, he said, gesturing towards the humble town hall, where a “No Loitering” sign is nailed next to the door. “There isn’t even a phone or a fax machine in there. How can we communicate with the outside world and ask for things?" There was jubilation among the town’s blacks after Mr Brown’s victory.

“"Everybody out here was whooping and hollering and running and trying to flip,” said Patrina Brown, 25, the new mayor’s niece and newly elected as one of Alligator’s five aldermen.

Some youngsters ran into Mr Fava’s store to taunt him. “They was pulling down their pants, shouting, ’Kiss my black ass, because we got a black mayor’, swinging their things around and throwing stuff,” said Jennifer Green, 31, a black mother of 10.

Miss Green is dubious about whether Mr Brown, whose duties will include organising contract labour, overseeing the water and sewer systems and distributing any grant monies, can deliver. “He says there’s going to be lots of changes and everything with all these kids running around here.

"But he do the same thing they do, drinking beer and stuff. You’ve got to stay at home and study the town. Alligator is the kind of place where if you leave your door open, when you come back there ain’t nothing in your house.

"There’s guns. Kids knock on your door asking for a beer at three and four in the morning. I get 14-year-olds asking me if I want weed or whatever. They should have just left Mr Robert in there.

"Tomaso won’t do anything about any of it. He’s going to put his hand in the cookie jar just at the wrong time and get caught.”

Her boyfriend J. R. Cook, who is white, disagreed. “It was about time for Robert to get out. He was tired. And there ain’t no saints around here. They may be Christian people but when they get out of church it makes no difference.”

Mr Fava said that relations between blacks and white had been generally good, though crime had increased. “Alligator is a quiet town, except when we get that Voodoo and Rap music.

"There’s only been one murder in all the time I’ve been here. About five years ago, there was a white lady coming in with a black guy and they got into it and he shot her and tried to burn the body up. They got him and he’s doing time in the penitentiary.”

Mr Brown said: “Robert’s coming around and accepting the reality now. I used to work for him and his brother and mow his lawn and stuff. It was a shocker for him after 30 years.”

Up at Bruno’s, at the entrance to Alligator beside Route 61, known as the Blues Highway, dozens of the town’s blacks were spending their Saturday evening outside the store drinking beer and whisky and dancing to music blasting from a boom box. The scent of marijuana hung in the warm air.

Inside the store, Vito Sbravati, 69, and his wife Christine, 65, were doing a very brisk trade. Next to the door was a photograph of President George W. Bush and his wife Laura thanking the couple for their campaign contributions.

The town had changed beyond all recognition, they reflected, since Mr Sbravati’s grandfather had arrived at New York’s Ellis Island in 1905 before making the journey by sea to New Orleans and then up the Mississippi to Rosedale, 30 miles from Alligator.

Mr Sbravati shrugged that his cousin Robert had not been able to get his vote out but said he thought Mr Brown’s election would not make much difference. “I call him Tomaso Obama.”

The couple will be retiring in two weeks. “It’s not about colour,” said Mrs Sbravati, also a third generation Italian-American in Alligator whose mother, an Allegrezza, married Mr Fava’s Uncle Bruno.

"I don’t care if someone’s orange, as long as they’re honest. I don’t go by black and white. I go by right and wrong.”

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Conservative Website the Free Republic Hurls Racial Slurs at the Obama Children

I am getting ready for UFC 100 and I may post a review later--my boy Brock Lesnar is going to own Frank Mir. For now, here is some more weekend fodder.

There is so much disdain for our personhood by the Right, that again, I am often speechless. And I use "personhood" with great emphasis because the idea of a black family in the White House is a symbolic shift that racists (be they latent, colorblind, or active) cannot accept.

I wonder if "fair and balanced" Fox News will cover this one?

Courtesy of The Vancouver Sun:

Conservative Free Republic blog in free speech flap after racial slurs directed at Obama children

"A typical street whore." "A bunch of ghetto thugs." "Ghetto street trash." "Wonder when she will get her first abortion."

These are a small selection of some of the racially-charged comments posted to the conservative 'Free Republic' blog Thursday, aimed at U.S. President Barack Obama's 11-year-old daughter Malia after she was photographed wearing a t-shirt with a peace sign on the front.

The thread was accompanied by a photo of Michelle Obama speaking to Malia that featured the caption, "To entertain her daughter, Michelle Obama loves to make monkey sounds."

Though this may sound like the sort of thing one might read on an Aryan Nation or white power website, they actually appeared on what is commonly considered one of the prime online locations for U.S. Conservative grassroots political discussion and organizing - and for a short time, the comments seemed to have the okay of site administrators.

Moderators of the blog left the comments - and commenters - in place until a complaint was lodged by a writer doing research on the conservative movement, almost a full day later.

"Could you imagine what world leaders must be thinking seeing this kind of street trash and that we paid for this kind of street ghetto trash to go over there?" wrote one commenter.

"They make me sick .... The whole family... mammy, pappy, the free loadin' mammy-in-law, the misguided chillin', and especially 'lil cuz... This is not the America I want representin' my peeps," wrote another.

Such was the onslaught of derision on the site that the person who originally complained about the slurs, a Kristin N., claims only one comment in the first hundred posted actually criticized the remarks as inappropriate.

A note on the front of the blog reads, "Free Republic does not advocate or condone racism, violence, rebellion, secession, or an overthrow of the government," but one comment on the thread read, "This disgusting display makes me more and more eager for the revolution," while another read, "I never actually wnated [sic] to be a pistol before but..."

After attention from other blogs, the thread was suppressed and placed under review, but before long it was returned to the site intact, and attracted a new series of racial slurs when the original complaint email was posted publicly to the site, with the sender's email address intact.

"The writer has a point," wrote site owner Jim Thompson sarcastically. "We should steer clear of Obama's children. They can't help it if their old man is an American-hating Marxist pig."

"I agree Jim," wrote commenter, by the nickname NoobRep. "The kids didn't pick their commie pinko pansy of a father. Nor did they choose to be put into the spotlight. But Obama/Soetoro is fair game and so is his witch of a wife."

"Poor kids. I hope they're not 'punished with a baby'," wrote another. "Hopefully they won't deal cocaine like the Kenyan."

"DIRTBAGS! All of them. Our [White House] is now a joke to the rest of the world. We have no respect and this is not going to turn out well, mark my words. We will be hit, and much worse than last time. We are now seen as weak and vulnerable. Ghetto and Chicago thugs have taken over."

Only after significant negative attention from a host of left wing political blogs did the maintainers of the Free Republic site place the thread under review for a second time, before finally pulling it.

In the wake of the controversy, some Free Republic posters complained about the vitriol.

One poster by the name of "fullchroma" wrote, "To Jim Thompson: The recent uptick here in racist vitriol, aimed at Barrack, Michelle and their children has made me wonder if I belong. My objection to Obama has nothing to do with skin tone. Is the ugly stereotype of Conservative racism true?"

Another, going by the name of TChris, wrote, "Free Republic is a political discussion forum. It SHOULD be beneath us as a group to stoop to such juvenile tactics as I see increasing here lately. Do we REALLY have to insult Mrs. Obama's appearance like a clique of nasty 14-year-old girls?"

But such opinions were not shared by all. Said Roses of Sharon, "Poor libs .... Too late, the battle has been joined."

One of the Worst Examples of Black on Black Crime Ever--Burr Oak Cemetary Defiled 300 or More Graves Including that of Emmitt Till

The dead they sleep a long, long sleep;
The dead they rest, and their rest is deep;
The dead have peace, but the living weep.

--Samuel Hoffenstein
When this story first broke, I kept holding my breath with the hope that the fools responsible for desecrating the graves at Burr Oak cemetery outside of Chicago were not black. My hopes were buttressed because the criminally accused had not done "the perp walk."

Alas, it seems that the ign'ts--and ign't is a complement--who dug up and defiled 300 or more graves containing some of our most honorable and respectable negro dead, are themselves Black.

Is this not one of the worst examples of black on black crime which you have ever been witness to?

Come Sunday, we are going to initiate the discommendation of these disgusting, foul, knuckle dragging, disgusting, hoogah moogah, evil, maladjusted, worthy of anal rape with a hot curling iron, monstrous examples of humankind.

We are truly a society too sick to survive.

Emmett Till's casket found rusting in shack

DON BABWIN, Associated Press Writer
Associated Press Writer

Illinois (AP) -- Four former employees accused of digging up bodies and reselling plots at a historic black cemetery near Chicago made about $300,000 in a scheme believed to have stretched back at least four years, authorities said Friday.

Three gravediggers and a manager at the Burr Oak Cemetery are accused of unearthing hundreds of corpses and either dumping some in a weeded, desolate area near the cemetery or double-stacking others in graves. The cemetery is the burial place of civil rights-era lynching victim Emmett Till and blues singers Willie Dixon and Dinah Washington.

While Till's grave site was not disturbed, Sheriff Tom Dart said investigators found his original iconic glass-topped casket rusting in a shack at the cemetery.

The 14-year-old Chicagoan was killed in 1955 after reportedly whistling at a white woman during a visit to his uncle's house in Mississippi. Nearly 100,000 people visited the casket during a four-day public viewing in Chicago, and images of his battered body helped spark the civil rights movement.

When Till was exhumed in 2005 during an investigation of his death, he was reburied in a new casket. The original casket was supposed to be kept for a planned memorial to Till.

Thousands of families have come to the cemetery since Thursday looking for answers about their loved ones, authorities said. Hundreds of relatives, some clutching maps of the 150-acre (60-hectare) site, were seen at the cemetery Friday.

Dart said officials have assisted the families in locating relatives' plots, and family members have reported at least 30 cases of disturbed graves and missing headstones.

The Illinois official who regulates cemeteries said Friday that the process of revoking the cemetery's license has been started.

The suspects, all of whom are black have been charged with one count of dismembering a human body, a felony.

Bond was set at $250,000 for the cemetery's manager, and at $200,000 for the other three.

Authorities said the cemetery manager also pocketed donations she elicited for a Till memorial museum. She has not been charged in connection with those allegations. Court documents show she was fired from the cemetery in late May amid allegations of financial wrongdoing.

Friday, July 10, 2009

My Friday Afternoon Happiness Pill--This is What Happens When Your Grandfather Discovers These Internets

White folks can keep Elvis all to themselves (although I must admit that he was an amazing performer).

Every Friday I am going to post a new youtube discovery and personal happiness pill to get us through the weekend and to celebrate the end of the week. And given that this was a heavy week with MJ's homegoing--and I am really enjoying the range of discussion pro/con on Michael's legacy--some levity seems appropriate.

Remember, Michael Jackson belongs to everybody! I think I am going to get a t-shirt made with that slogan emblazoned upon it. Actually, I would describe Michael's relationship in the following terms: while he belonged to "us," he was on loan to the world.

Because he is such a prolific and lucid thinker, Mike from Brooklyn also has some insights into Barack Obama's racial ancestry, genetics, and the politics of race in America:

Question: is this what happens when our elders get access to the internet? Are you afraid to get your parents or grandparents online because of the havoc they may wreak? And how would you respond if you discovered moms or pops had put a video on YouTube?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Michael Jackson's Death Was Tragic, But He Was Little More Than an Icon of Mediocrity

Damn! And double-damn!

It seems that one more person has come to bury Michael Jackson rather than to praise him. The battle over Michael's legacy continues.

Courtesy of Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez on Alternet:

I have watched the fawning nonstop media coverage of the death of Michael Jackson with skepticism this past week.

Yes, premature death is tragic. Upon that we can (mostly) all agree.

What I cannot agree with, however, are the repeated claims that Jackson: was a musical genius; broke down racial barriers; was a brilliant singer; was a great dancer; changed American culture.

The book African American Education by Walter Recharde Allen details the rampant double-standards applied by the US school system to black children. Too many teachers still hold negative stereotypes about blacks. When a white kid says two-plus-two is four, the teachers nod and move on; when the black kid does the same, they stare in disbelief, express surprise, or praise the student for high achievement. In other words, lowered expectations lead teachers to praise mediocrity in black students.

I believe something similar is going on in the US media regarding Michael Jackson.

As a musician (I hold a bachelor's degree in performance from Berklee College of Music) and as a music critic and historian, I can tell you with a clear conscience that Michael Jackson's musical abilities, placed upon the spectrum of human accomplishments in this field, are mediocre at best.

Yet everyone from the London Telegraph to People magazine have gone to great lengths to tell us Jackson was a literal "genius".

Jackson, whose vocal range was limited and who sang often insipid pop songs that rarely ventured outside of a basic pentatonic scale, was no musical genius.

Cannonball Adderley was a musical genius. John Coltrane was a musical genius. Charles Ives was a musical genius. J.S. Bach was a musical genius. Hector Berlioz was a musical genius. These were human beings gifted with uncommon genius in musical understanding, interpretation and expression.

To compare Michael Jackson's twitchy, strange pop singing to the accomplishments of people such as Pyotr Tchaikovsky or Charlie Parker is downright insulting; it is rather like saying the guy who designed the Tilt-a-Whirl is on par as an architect with I.M. Pei.

That the American press have been so quick to jump on the Jackson-as-genius bandwagon speaks to the dismal state of excellence in our culture. As more and more artistic and journalistic decisions have been left to MBAs and accountants, quality has fallen by the wayside. True musical variety has died with the radio monopolies of Clear Channel and others, as we are force-fed the same Lady Ga-Ga tune until we Lady Ga-GAG. Our standards, in other words, have sunk to new lows, and not just in music.

If Jackson is a musical genius, one realizes, it is not such a great leap to imagine Sarah Palin as presidential material, Lauren Weisberger as a great author, or Lou Dobbs as a substitute for real reporting and news. The Simpsons lampooned the growing cult of idiocy and mediocrity in our nation in the character of Homer; sadly, hardly anyone noticed because they were too busy relating to him.

As a culture, it appears that we have accepted the lowest common denominator as the highest we ought to aim. We are told Michael Jackson is the King of Pop, when in reality he is the Clown Monarch of Mediocrity.

Again and again we have heard the Jackson also "broke down racial barriers". ABC News told us he was the first black artist to do so. This is as nonsensical as the claim that he was a genius, for several reasons.

First, Jackson was hardly the first black person to find popularity in American pop music. Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker, Fats Domino, Coleman Hawkins, Miles Davis - the list of those who came before is seemingly endless to anyone whose sense of US musical history goes back further than the 1970s.

Second, Jackson worked very hard not to be black. He hated being black. His self-hatred was deep and public. To somehow now consider him as being some sort of racial trailblazer is ridiculous and incomprehensible; it also shows that people see what they need to see, rather than what is there.

Did white people like Jackson's music? Sure. But they came to love him not in the respectful way audiences came to love, say, a young Wynton Marsalis, which is to say observing his unmistakable genius in stunned silence. Rather, it was to say "lookie there, what a cute negro child singin' and dancin'" as the very young Jackson sang age-inappropriate love songs in a shuck-and-jive style that brought to mind vaudeville blackface.

This type of admiration is nothing new in a nation that has a long tradition of white folks watching black folks perform mysterious and embarrassing works for their entertainment. The young Jackson was, to most white Americans, like a singing version of Buckwheat from Our Gang.

Jackson hardly embraced his race. Quite the contrary. If he sought to break down racial barriers, it was only to have surgery to make himself white. When it came time for children, he found a sperm donor who was white, because he knew that no matter how much surgery he had, his DNA would still make black babies - and he hated black people. Both his marriages were to white women.

Jackson's dancing, so often heralded as brilliant, was not so. He was an unusual dancer, yes. But not a brilliant one. A brilliant dancer is someone like Mikhail Barishnakov, Alvin Ailey, or Gregory Hines. Jackson was a weird dancer, and a good dancer, but he simply wasn't great.

We Americans have become so accustomed to inappropriate superlatives that we scarcely notice when they are applied to the middling.

As for Jackson changing American culture? Maybe he helped justify our increasing voyeurism and obsession with celebrity by being so publicly and tragically screwed up.

But did he singlehandedly change music? Nope. The uptempo songs are fun to dance to, but the slow songs are excruciatingly insipid. I can't see any of it mattering ten years from now or, for that matter, ten years ago. We knew this a month ago; that's why no one was listening to his music. Now, we pretend we care about his music when the truth is more about the selfish communal realization of mortality among Generation X, who in Jackson lost their first big star. If he can die, we are thinking, then holy shit, so can we.

This still doesn't make Jackson a genius. It doesn't make Gen Xers geniuses, either. But maybe that's the problem. We were the ones with the hippie parents who told us all that we were great. The truth was, most of us, like most people of any age, weren't great at all; we were average. We just thought we were great. Maybe we're projecting.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Gordon Gartrelle Reflects on Michael Jackson

As millions of fans celebrate Michael Jackson’s life and music, the prevailing sentiment seems to be: “He may have been an infantilized self-hating BDD suffering megalomaniacal dope fiend, but he was our infantilized self-hating BDD suffering megalomaniacal dope fiend.”

I’ve done my best to ignore the disingenuous tributes from people and institutions that clearly didn’t give a shit about him when he was alive. But, like a lot of people, I’ve responded by listening to his songs—in my case, songs that normally don’t make it into the rotation.

Two, in particular, stand out. The first is “Heaven Can Wait” from Invincible, his last studio album. The second is “Childhood” from History.

“Heaven Can Wait” proved (along with “Butterflies”) that Jackson could still make brilliant music late into his career, albeit in spurts. “Heaven Can Wait” is ostensibly about how Jackson is so in love that he’d forgo eternal paradise to be with his love on earth. It soon becomes apparent, though, that the song is really about the singer’s own jealousy: he has to be with his “baby girl” because he wouldn’t be able to stand seeing someone else with her. The second verse is somewhat creepy, but very appropriate for a man as thoroughly obsessed with himself as Jackson was.

“Childhood” stands out for a different reason: despite how delusional and sheltered Jackson seemed to be, he was fully aware of his situation. In the ballad, Jackson explicitly echoes the obvious pop psychology the rest of us applied to his life, singing, “It's been my fate to compensate, for the childhood I've never known.” He waxes whimsical about pirates and other such juvenilia in the same whispery voice he used in this bizarre video footage of him singing about Peter Pan. “Childhood” is saccharine and manipulative, but sincere. It’s strange that so many people, myself included, completely ignored this song. It had a video and everything.

The saddest thing about this song isn't Jackson's actual explanation for his "eccentricities" (he didn't get to have a childhood), but that he felt compelled to explain himself at all, that he desperately needed our acceptance.

Black Children Kicked Out of Pool Because They Would Change Its Complexion

And some people think we make this stuff up.

Do these white troglodytic mouth breathers think that these black kids are going to change the color of the water? Random self-congratulatory ego stroking moment: how can you not love such Oscar Wilde like wordplay?

These racism still exists in this glorious day and age of a post-racial Barack Obama America news stories are anticlimactic. Maybe, because I am a respectable negro who is more than tired of telling white, black, and brown young people that racism is alive and well (and that they should not be surprised by it) that I find these stories trite. But again, it could also be that because I am from New England and have experienced enough racism from WASP's and white ethnics alike in places such as Boston and Rhode Island that I know better than to buy into the all is good for people of color north of the Macon-Dixon line narrative that some cling so dearly to.

As will be my habit with such stories, let's go to the peanut gallery aka the comments section of NBC Philadelphia (the station which aired this story) to get a sense of where the public stands on this issue.


ALJ says: Seriously can't you just picture this in your mind? 50 black kids running at once jumping into a swimming pool! I don't blame anyone who's already in the pool for getting out. A LOT of black people in general are rambunctious, loud and ignorant to common sense. How many times have we been out at a movie or restaurant and in walks loud mouthed black people disrupting the otherwise pleasant atmosphere? I'm not afraid to admit it because it's the truth!

Josh says: Go swim somewhere else. Quit sh*tting in other people's neighborhoods. It's a private club, they can refuse admittance to anyone for any reason, you whiners.

JMC says: This will make the media...not what was supposedly said by Whites true but I don't think that means anything to the media. Blacks realized they can say anything when it comes to race and it is suppose to be believed. Sharpton & Jackson have made their whole careers on untruths and half-truths so has so many class action law suits. The other thing is; I have seen inner-city kids come into an area and destroy and intimidate with bad manners. The question is when as a society are we going to stop making excuses for them and being baby sitters to woman that don't want to work and men that feel no responsibility to their children. Blacks as a group have run out of excuses for their lack of good behavior. At some point we will have to cut them lose and tell them they are on their own and responsible for themselves.. Kids will be kids but they also have to have manners and that includes social manners when they come to a public place or are invited into a private place such as this.

Bob says: I smell another fabricated story reported in order to increase racial tension in America. There is not a single public or private facility in this country that would risk their license and years of court costs to kick out a single "minority" for solely racial reasons. The idea is absurd, considering the ease of which anyone can sue in this country. What likely occurred is that some of the children ruined the trip for everyone when they began to fight or "play rough" in the pool.

David says: I don't agree with the clubs actions, They are a private club and may have the right but I still think its wrong, kinda like I think The Black Congressional Congress is WRONG but hey I guess your allowed to be a racest as long as your not WHITE!!!! The press could help by not calling them Minority's and it would have READ much better if it stated " 60 young AMERICANS ( who happen to be Black ) were turned away from a private club... If you want to self segragate yourselfs by calling yourselfs a African American or a Minority then you should expect Americans to treat you like a African or a Minority.. Wake up and set yourself free by not allow anyone to call you anything but an American, leave the tribe mentality and join America..

Joe says: Obviously, the black kids were acting up and not following directions and it was probably the life guards who told the club management to shut things down. Remember that this is a private club with extensive legal liability for injuries. I myself usually leave pubic parks or community pools when too many black kids show up. It is the way of things. Only a cynical liberal would point and sputter at this.

Daycoming says: To all of you like-minded "Dans" being Black itself is a "behavior", a "manner", a "situation". Even if the kids were raucus, which by the way, the Pool Director didn't indicate, because if the kids were, you can be sure he would have pointed that out, this would NOT have happened if 60 raucus, loud, white kids had jumped in the pool. The white youngsters would have been deemed as "just being kids"...which is what the black children were being - KIDS!!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

How Long Until Fox News and Bill O'Reilly Introduce Their Racial Hostility Into Michael Jackson's Funeral Service?

These folks are so predictable.

It seems that Bill O'Reilly came to bury Michael Jackson, not to praise him.

I was talking to Zora today during Michael Jackson's funeral and I jokingly observed that Fox News and company are going to somehow find a way to introduce racial invective into their analysis of the event. I thought they would wait at least 24 hours. But alas, I only had to wait 6.

Are black folk so foreign, Other, and by definition unAmerican to the Right-wing in this country that their spokespeople are on 24 hour alert for any opportunity to introduce race where race is (less than) relevant? Hypocritically, while O'Reilly, Limbaugh and others plead for colorblindness and race neutrality in American political and social life--all the while mining a narrative of white male grievance under the guise of "reverse racism"--their bread and butter is the theater of white racial resentment.

Put more simply: O'Reilly and his kin hate Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. They paint the duo (and the NAACP and "civil rights establishment") as racial ambulance chasers and "shakedown" artists. Ironically, O'Reilly and company are themselves far worse race baiters. As is well-documented, in the United States since at least the 1960s, bigotry and racial resentment have been the bread and butter of the Right. It is a drug which has fueled their electoral politics, and one to which they show no signs of ending their addiction. And frighteningly, the false populism which is their standing order number 1 and primary strategy does not necessitate a much needed intervention.

I have to ask: Is O'Reilly so addicted to his bile and vitriol that he is rendered incapable of waiting a few obligatory days before beginning his vicious assault on Michael Jackson's memory? Is O'Reilly such a whore for the 24 hour news cycle that he has to pounce on the same day that Michael is remembered fondly and bathed in love and acceptance--emotions that Jackson was all too often deprived of during the 50 years of his much too short life?

I suspect the answers are "yes" and "yes."

Shame on you Mr. O'Reilly.

My Personal Happiness Pill of the Day: Jerry Springer Randomness, the Beauty of Black Gay Love, and a Less Than Pretty Tranny

Hat tip to O Hell Nawl on this one (I love that site. Trust me, if you want to waste an afternoon at work and be brought to near tears click on the "just ignant" link).

Michael's funeral was wonderful if not draining. As I sit here processing the gravitas of MJ's homegoing, this clip from Jerry Springer is a much needed and welcome happiness pill for the day.

Sit back, laugh, and enjoy.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Impenetrable Logic and Stupifying Behavior of Princess Sarah Palin and Her Cabal of Enablers

We have beaten up on Palin quite a bit here, and she continues to be comedy gold.

I am working on a piece on Sarah Palin, the New Haven 20, and the myth of meritocracy, but this "explanation" of the logic underlying the resignation of the governess of Alaska demands a quick comment.

To my eyes, what is most entertaining is how Anderson Cooper is visibly stunned by Meg Stapleton's twisted logic--the exchange reminds me of a scientist becoming frustrated while trying to debate the existence of evolution with a creationist, a non-starter because their respective truths are grounded in such utterly different realities.

But, one has to appreciate a friend who is ready to ride or die in defense of Palin's decision making process.

One must ask: Is Palin's resignation political genius or political suicide? And what is more likely? Sarah Palin as Chairperson of the GOP or Sarah Palin as reality tv star?

The latter option is most compelling as she possesses all of the elements for a great Lifetime or TLC show--a protagonist who is amazingly confident yet simultaneously unaware of her own stupidity; baby daddy drama; a MILFish grandma; a secessionist hill billy husband; the moral quandaries brought about by ethics violations and political corruption; and a cliquish group of friends and supporters that are dedicated to enabling Sarah Palin's egomania.

How would you script Sarah Palin's reality tv show? What should it be called?

Was He a Monster, Hero, Villain, or Tragic Figure? Robert McNamara Has Died

I have always admired Robert McNamara's intellect and drive. He was an expert manager, a technocrat in the best and worst sense of the word, and a man whose failures and successes were played out upon the public stage. Although some would find the self-reflective turn which McNamara took at the end of his life (where in a book and documentary he gave a big mea culpa for his role in the Vietnam War) to be insincere, I instead took it as heartfelt and honest.

Ultimately, McNamara's lesson, and one we should all heed, is that we should not be trapped by the hubris of "expertise," a lack of empathy for one's adversaries, or be hamstrung in our decision-making by a set of foregone conclusions.

Travel well and rest in peace Mr. McNamara.

From CNN:

Robert McNamara, Ex-Defense Secretary Dies

Former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, a key architect of the U.S. war in Vietnam under presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, has died at age 93, according to his family. Robert McNamara took a lead role in managing the U.S. military commitment in Vietnam.

McNamara was a member of Kennedy's inner circle during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, when the United States and the Soviet Union stood on the brink of nuclear war.

But he became a public lightning rod for his management of the war in Vietnam, overseeing the U.S. military commitment there as it grew from fewer than 1,000 advisers to more than half a million troops.

Though the increasingly unpopular conflict was sometimes dubbed "McNamara's War," he later said both administrations were "terribly wrong" to have pursued military action beyond 1963.

"External military force cannot reconstruct a failed state, and Vietnam, during much of that period, was a failed state politically," he told CNN in a 1996 interview for the "Cold War" documentary series. "We didn't recognize it as such."

A native of San Francisco, McNamara studied economics at the University of California and earned a master's degree in business from Harvard. He was a staff officer in the Army Air Corps during World War II, when he studied the results of American bombing raids on Germany and Japan in search of ways to improve their accuracy and efficiency. After the war, he joined the Ford Motor Company and became its president in November 1960 -- the first person to lead the company from outside its founding family. A month later, the newly elected Kennedy asked him to become secretary of defense, making him one of the "whiz kids" who joined the young president's administration.

In October 1962, after the discovery of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba, McNamara was one of Kennedy's top advisers in the standoff that followed. The United States imposed a naval "quarantine" on Cuba, a Soviet ally, and prepared for possible airstrikes or an invasion. The Soviets withdrew the missiles in exchange for a U.S. guarantee not to invade Cuba, a step that allowed Soviet premier Nikita Kruschev to present the pullback as a success to his own people.

In the 2003 documentary "The Fog of War," McNamara told filmmaker Errol Morris that the experience taught American policymakers to "put ourselves inside their skin and look at us through their eyes." But he added, "In the end, we lucked out. It was luck that prevented nuclear war."

McNamara is credited with using the management techniques he mastered as a corporate executive to streamline the Pentagon, computerizing and smoothing out much of the U.S. military's vast purchasing and personnel system. And in Vietnam, he attempted to use those techniques to measure the progress of the war.

Metrics such as use of "body counts" and scientific solutions such as using the herbicide Agent Orange to defoliate jungles in which communist guerrillas hid became trademarks of the conflict. McNamara made several trips to South Vietnam to study the situation firsthand.

He, Johnson and other U.S. officials portrayed the war as a necessary battle in the Cold War, a proxy struggle to prevent communism from taking control of all of Southeast Asia. But while they saw the conflict as another front in the standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union, which backed communist North Vietnam, McNamara acknowledged later that they underestimated Vietnamese nationalism and opposition to the U.S.-backed government in Saigon.

"The conflict within South Vietnam itself had all of the characteristics of a civil war, and we didn't look upon it as largely a civil war, and we weren't measuring our progress as one would have in what was largely a civil war," he told CNN.

Casualties mounted, as did domestic opposition to the war. In 1965, a Quaker anti-war protester, Norman Morrison, set himself on fire outside McNamara's office window. In 1967, tens of thousands of demonstrators marched on the Pentagon, which was ringed with troops.

By November 1967, McNamara told Johnson that there was "no reasonable way" to end the war quickly, and that the United States needed to reduce its forces in Vietnam and turn the fighting over to the American-backed government in Saigon. By the end of that month, Johnson announced he was replacing McNamara at the Pentagon and moving him to the World Bank. But by March 1968, Johnson had reached virtually the same conclusion as McNamara. He issued a call for peace talks and announced he would not seek re-election.

After leaving the Pentagon in early 1968, McNamara spent 12 years leading the World Bank. He said little publicly about Vietnam until the publication of a 1995 memoir, "In Retrospect."

"You don't know what I know about how inflammatory my words can appear," he told Morris. "A lot of people misunderstand the war, misunderstand me. A lot of people think I'm a son of a bitch."

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Some July 4th Good Times

I could post an obligatory Crispus Attucks documentary, but in celebrating July 4th I have always preferred Good Times' exposition on the first American to die in the Revolutionary War.

Here is a little corrective that should have been included in that episode--but I guess folks don't like to promote the fact that more African Americans fought on the side of the British than the slave holding colonies--I won't tell our secret if you don't. Random thought: wouldn't a movie about Colonel Tye, the runaway slave turned commando/guerrilla leader who terrorized colonists in New Jersey and New York, be great to see?

Part 1

Part 2--I love me some David Walker

Remember, knowledge is half the battle. Now, eat, drink, and be merry!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Chauncey DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds: Friday Fun! Alien Nation to be Remade

Everything old is new again. I have always loved Alien Nation--both the movie and television series.

I have some mixed feelings as well...that critical part of my Virgo personality that I cannot get past: for example, the trope of the Other as alien is well past tired, and the way that slaves are depicted as having little agency in Alien Nation has always troubled me. But in total, Alien Nation was great, entertaining, and challenging television fare (random factoid: I am teaching a course next year on the politics of science fiction television and film. Alien Nation is most certainly getting its own week because we slightly older ghetto nerds do have an obligation to school the youngsters).

Hopefully, this rebooted series will find a home amongst those of us that are still mourning the departure of our beloved Battlestar Galactica.

From Variety:

Sci Fi cops a remake of 'Alien' tale

Sci Fi is developing a new take on "Alien Nation," the 1988 feature that previously spawned a spinoff series on Fox.

"Angel" alum Tim Minear -- no stranger to sci-fi tales, having worked on "The X-Files," "Firefly" and "Strange World" -- is penning the fresh take on the franchise. Fox 21, the alternative production arm of 20th Century Fox TV, will produce.

"Alien Nation" centers on the partnership between a veteran cop and his alien detective partner, set against the larger tale of alien "newcomers" who move to Earth and attempt to assimilate into society.

Fox 21 topper Chris Carlisle said he believed "Alien Nation" could rep the next franchise revival for Sci Fi, which found huge success in dusting off "Battlestar Galactica" and reworking it for today's auds. Carlisle said "Alien Nation" works both as a sci-fi piece and a procedural drama.

"It's absolute perfect timing for this type of show," Carlisle said. "They're looking for more grounded sci-fi and close-ended episodes, and at the heart of 'Alien Nation,' it's a cop movie. It's grounded. And it has a tremendous amount of dramatic possibilities and humor."

Sci Fi is also looking to broaden its footprint, as it preps to rebrand itself as "Syfy" next week.

"It's very much in keeping with what we've been looking to do -- find themes that are more than just hard sci-fi, something that feels contemporary and relevant and invites a broad audience in," said Sci Fi original programming exec VP Mark Stern.

The new "Alien Nation" would include a mythology that evolves over time and will also touch on some of the issues of the day, such as the immigrant experience and how society integrates an incoming culture.

Minear said he's looking forward to incorporating a mix of all the different kinds of series he's written in the past.

"It's genre mixed with procedural mixed with funny and mixed with big, giant scary," Minear said. "I love serialized stuff, but this is also a cop franchise. That 'Starsky and Hutch'/'Lethal Weapon' buddy cop comedy is absent from TV right now."

Minear is currently busy outlining the "Alien Nation" script and mapping out the project's mythology. The new "Alien Nation" will likely take place in the Pacific Northwest, and will take place about 20 years after the first ship of aliens - who have been banished as slaves - crash lands into Earth.

By the time the show begins, some time in the 2020s, the alien population has multiplied from a few thousand to 3.5 million. And much of the "newcomers" live their own segregated existence, in what Minear compares to the North African ghettos in France.

"You can take (the original 'Alien Nation') a step forward and really do a show that encompasses the clash of civilizations, and the idea of a ghettoized minority," he said. "You can touch on racism, terrorism, assimilation, immigration. And there's room for satire."

The original film, which took place in 1991, was helmed by Graham Baker and written by Rockne S. O'Bannon (with an uncredited revise by James Cameron). Mandy Patinkin and James Caan starred as alien cop Sam Francisco and his reluctant human partner, respectively; Terence Stamp also starred.

In 1989, 20th Century Fox TV and Kenneth Johnson Prods. adapted the movie for Fox, with Eric Pierpoint and Gary Graham in the lead roles. The show lasted just a single season but spawned a series of books.

The TV show was revived in 1994 as a series of telepics for Fox, starting with "Alien Nation: Dark Horizon." Five TV movies were ultimately aired; the last, "Alien Nation: The Udara Legacy," ran in 1997.

Stern said Sci Fi had been looking at "Alien Nation" as a potential franchise for several years and had talked to several writers about ways to update the concept for modern auds.

"The challenge is how do you do it in a way that will reinvent it without it feeling like a derivative rehash," he said. "We sat down with Tim, who is someone we'd been looking to work with for quite a while, and his approach felt like it wouldn't be a traditional adaptation. We got excited."

Minear said he'd been anxious to develop for cable - and in particular, Sci Fi. The success of "Battlestar" fueled his interest in reviving "Alien Nation," he said.

"Twenty years (after 'Alien Nation'), TV as a whole has evolved, and you can explore issues and go deeper with subject matter than you ever could before," Minear said. "On cable, you can play with ambiguity. This is a place I want to be."

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Look at the Negro in the Window! Black in America Part 2, Black Men and Women Issues, and Single Mothers Adopting

CNN is ramping up for its second installment in the Black in America series (to air July 22-23). As CNN builds its momentum towards a second "expose" on the problems of Black America, the network has featured the obligatory stories on the politics of black hair; what does it mean to be African in Black America; an excellent piece on the urban farming movement; and the obligatory rediscovering our past aka our personal version of Roots story.

Yes, as I did last year, we will be featuring our very own White in America series as a parallel and complement to CNN's zoo-like, freak show, pathology parade on black folks.

As an opening volley, here is CNN's latest installment on the problem that is Black America (yes, that phrasing is intentional). And of course these are problems endemic and unique to the Black community: only black professional men want to be players; we are the only racial group plagued by colorism; and stories of heartbreak and loss are unique to black must be our blues sensibility.

Random thought that I should probably keep to myself lest we start a black man/black woman gender battle royal--I didn't know that black professional men had it so easy! I guess all the professional brothers I know who can't get any play from the sisters are doing something really really wrong--oh well, I have never been very good at self-censoring.

The full story "Single Black Women Choosing to Adopt" is found here. Some choice excerpts:


"Zoey was going to be born to a single black mother anyway," Fleming says. "At least she's being raised by a single black parent who was ready financially and emotionally to take care of her."

Yet there are some single African-American women who are not emotionally ready to adopt an African-American child who is too dark, some adoption agency officials say.

Fair-skinned or biracial children stand a better chance of being adopted by single black women than darker-skinned children, some adoption officials say.

"They'll say, 'I want a baby to look like a Snickers bar, not dark chocolate,' " Caldwell, founder of Lifetime Adoption, says about some prospective parents.

"I had a family who turned a baby down because it was too dark," she says. "They said the baby wouldn't look good in family photographs."


The African-American men she dated, however, didn't want to marry, she says. She dated African-American professionals: engineers, attorneys and managers. But there were so many eligible African-American women, and they still wanted to play, she says.

Time was running out for her. At 37 years old, Duren had earned an MBA degree, a six-figure income and had traveled widely. But she couldn't find the right man to raise a family.

One man she thought she would marry broke off their relationship because he said he wasn't ready to be a father. Then he had a child out of wedlock with another woman, she says.

"He broke my heart," Duren says.

The persistent heartache ate away at her.

"I was struggling," Duren says. "I prayed: 'You know Lord, I worked so hard. I have my integrity, morals -- how did this happen?' ''

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Hurricane Chris Raps in the Louisiana House of Representatives and in Doing So Justifies the End of Reconstruction

I am rendered speechless once more.

Question one: is this an example of what some have called "the black image in the white mind" come true? Is Hurricane's performance an act of racial projection that validates D. W. Griffith's wicked lies about African American self-rule during Reconstruction?

Question two: given the many celebrity deaths this past week, am I alone in wishing that hip hop had died a glorious death a decade or so ago so that she would be spared the indignity of a slow, painful decline?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Legendary Graffiti Artist Iz the Wiz has Passed Away

When I was growing up, my parents and I would take the Metro North into Grand Central and then go to see relatives in Brooklyn or the Bronx, or alternatively backtrack up to 125th street. During those trips, I fondly remember seeing graffiti art (as opposed to crudely drawn "tags") on the subway cars. To my preteen eyes, those moving murals were part of what made New York so different, special, a wee bit dangerous (in a manageable sort of way) and "exotic" to a kid from the semi-suburbs.

These were good times. I especially liked stopping by the stores next to Grand Central that sold imported (and overpriced) hand held video games like Donkey Kong from Japan and Taiwan. I also loved the Japanese sex figurines that featured samurai, geishas, and sumo wrestlers doing the deed in any number of less than traditional positions. Even then, the profane, the gross, and the sensual held a certain appeal for this preteen ghetto nerd. And this love of the lurid would almost cost me my life during my high school senior year class trip...but that is another story for another time.

Before the Disneyfication of New York and Times Square, those simpler days during the Reagan 80's--a moment in time that was in fact not so simple--the City had such personality.

Rest in peace Iz the Wiz, hip hop pioneer and graf artist, as you were part of what made New York special. From The New York Times:

Michael Martin, Subway Graffiti Artist Iz the Wiz, Is Dead at 50

In the 1970s and ’80s, chances were good that anyone traveling the New York subways rode at least once in a car emblazoned with “Iz the Wiz.” Cryptic but euphonious, often abbreviated to the ultraminimal Iz, the signature could be seen all over the subway system: fat capital letters spray-painted on a door, below a window, across an entire car or even along the full length of a train.

Iz the Wiz was a legend among graffiti artists, by almost all accounts “the longest-reigning all-city king in N.Y.C. history,” as the graffiti Web site puts it. In other words, Iz put his name, or tag, on subway cars running on every line in the system more times than any other artist.

Michael Martin — Iz the Wiz — died on June 17 in Spring Hill, Fla., where he had moved a few years ago. He was 50. The cause was a heart attack, said Ed Walker, who is working on a biography and documentary of Iz the Wiz.

“Look at any movie shot on location in New York from the late 1970s to the early 1980s, and you will very likely see an Iz tag,” Mr. Walker said. “He told me once that in 1982 he went out every night and did at least a hundred throw-ups” — letters filled in quickly with a thin layer of color. “People can’t fathom it.”

Not everyone was appreciative. His career put him on the wrong side of the law — he was issued summonses on several occasions — and of New Yorkers who regarded graffiti as vandalism, not art. But he was a hero to generations of taggers. Mr. Martin started out spraying graffiti on walls and buildings when he was 14, using the tags Scat or FCN, for French Canadian National, although he was not Canadian. He soon graduated to subway cars, specializing in the A line, the longest in the New York subway system. He painted his first cars with the tag Ike — his nickname, Mike, minus the first letter.

In 1975, in the 68th Street Station of the Lexington Avenue line, he saw a poster for the Broadway play “The Wiz” with the slogan, “The Wiz Is a Wow.” It had a certain ring. “He said, ‘If the Wiz is a Wow, why can’t Iz be the Wiz?’ ” his friend and fellow graffiti artist SAR (real name, Charles Sar) recalled in a telephone interview last week.

With the graffiti artist Vinny, Mr. Martin mounted an intensive throw-up campaign on the A line. In the late 1970s he branched out to other lines, spray-painting top-to-bottoms (graffiti displays extending from the top of a train to the bottom), burners (complicated works intended to dazzle the competition) and fully realized scenes, like his homage to John Lennon, painted after Lennon was shot to death in 1980. It was a two-car scene with a portrait of Lennon and a graveyard filled with tombstones.

“He was an artist, but also a bomber, recognized as a person who made himself seen by everybody,” said the photographer Henry Chalfant, using the graffiti term for a prolific artist. “At the same time he appreciated the aesthetic side of it. He didn’t do wild style” — complex, interlocking letters — “he had a simple, readable style with great color and interesting forms within the lettering itself.”

With the photographer Martha Cooper, Mr. Chalfant published “Subway Art” (1984), recently reissued by Chronicle Books, and made the documentary film “Style Wars” (1983), which included Mr. Martin in its portraits of graffiti and hip-hop artists. He also appeared in the role of a transit police detective in the cult 1983 film “Wild Style.”

Mr. Martin was born in Manhattan and lived in a succession of foster homes after his mother was imprisoned for burglary. He did not know his father. He grew up in Ozone Park, Queens, and as a teenager lived in Covenant House on the Lower East Side.

Like many others, he found a community in the graffiti movement. Early on he worked with artists like Vinny, Epic 1&2, and Evil 13. Later he painted with many of the top crews, or graffiti collectives, in New York, including the Odd Partners, the Crew and the Three Yard Boys. At one point he was president of the Master Blasters and the Queens chapter of the Prisoners of Graffiti.

When the graffiti artist Spar One, interviewing Mr. Martin for in 1995, asked how many complete cars he had decorated (“You mean like burner top-to-bottom jammies?” he asked), he said: “Oh, I don’t know, I never counted. But I know in the years ’81 to ’82 I did no less than 25.” Mr. Martin often added snippets from classic rock lyrics to his tags, like “whole lotta love” or “welcome to the machine,” which became the informal titles for his more famous works.

The displays enjoyed surprising longevity in the days before the Metropolitan Transportation Authority began cracking down on graffiti. Elaborately painted cars could run for months or even years. Artists would often gather at certain stations to watch their work and keep an eye on the competition, much like their counterparts did in 15th-century Florence.

Mr. Martin withdrew from the scene in the mid-1980s. He managed a grocery store briefly, then began using drugs heavily. A marriage in the late 1980s ended in divorce. He is survived by a brother, Peter Poston of Spring Hill, and a sister, Evelyn Poston of East Stroudsburg, Pa.

In the 1990s Mr. Martin jumped back into graffiti, painting cars, but also taking part in the legal graffiti movement, expressing himself on walls set aside for the purpose. He was one of the first artists to work on the Phun Phactory, a 200,000-square-foot industrial building in Long Island City, Queens, that artists began covering with graffiti in 1993. It is now known as the 5 Pointz Aerosol Art Center, or the Institute of Higher Burnin’.

Mr. Martin learned he had kidney failure in 1996, which he assumed was a result of working with aerosol paint, and for the rest of his life he was on dialysis. His financial situation was dire. “He never made the connections he needed to make to be appreciated in the art world,” Mr. Sar said.

Iz the Wiz sought fame, and found it, but not on gallery walls. His work appeared on the old dusty brown subway cars known as coal mines, and their replacements, called ding dongs for the bell tone that chimes when the doors close. Painting one of those, end to end, Mr. Martin once said, “was like sex in a can.”

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Frank Ricci, Discrimination, Exams, and the Law--Why the New Haven Firefighter Case Matters

"Neal and Bogan's conception of merit is different from Frank Ricci's. It's easy to see why. Ever since the test results came out, the black Firebirds and the white plaintiffs have had opposing interests. Stretching back further in time, back over the decades, the two groups also see the history of the department through a different lens. For Frank Ricci, the past is a story of ethnic heritage and family pride. For Mike Neal and Erika Bogan, it's a story about breaking the lock on hiring that kept their people out."

--Part 5, of Slate's feature on the Frank Ricci promotion controversy in New Haven, CT

Slate has a great feature exploring the history, context, and issues of legal jurisprudence in the New Haven fire department promotion/exam controversy. A decision in the Ricci v. DeStafano case will likely be handed down by the Supreme Court next week and this series is an excellent and balanced primer--one that goes beyond the reactionary, Jim Crow 2.0, White male grievance narrative offered by the Right or the overly simplistic reading of the case offered by many "progressives".

As a native of New Haven, I can second the nuance captured in the series regarding the tensions between firefighters from the lily white suburbs and those black and Latino firefighters from (by comparison, the much more integrated) city of New Haven. I have always argued that municipal jobs should be filled by folks from that community--be they cops, firefighters, or the like--but that is a conversation for another time.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Gucci Mane: Lyrical Genius, Outsider Theorist

Over the last few weeks, some of the best rap bloggers have been making the case that Atlanta trap rapper Gucci Mane is a brilliant lyricist.

I called bullshit on the whole enterprise. I was put off by Gucci’s frequent emphasis on well-tread topics like jewelry, alcohol, hoes, crack, and cars, by his sometimes sketchy technique around the beat, by his mumble-mouthed delivery, and by his flamboyant, coonish image. I was prejudiced by the fact that he is 30 years old but still dresses and speaks like someone half his age. In short, I allowed my uptight, judgmental respectable negro elitism to get the better of me.

In all honesty, I had only listened about a dozen or so Gucci verses before dismissing him, so I wasn’t even giving him a fair shot. Since then, I have listened to Gucci’s entire catalog, and I’ve determined that the aforementioned bloggers are being too conservative with their praise. Not only is Gucci one of the best rap lyricists right now, he is one of the smartest writers in any genre or medium. He’s obviously a master with words, but what makes him stand out is the way in which he so effortlessly (and perhaps unwittingly) channels the complex theories and approaches of several influential writers while avoiding these writers’ weaknesses.

For instance, Gucci employs Adorno and Horkheimer’s critique of mass consumer culture, as well as Ralph Ellison’s playful puns and elevation of African American folk traditions, yet Gucci avoids the reactionary cultural politics and elitism that plague these three men’s works. Gucci’s lyrics also reflect the feminist theories and analytical lenses of Judith Butler and Luce Irigaray, while remaining uncorrupted by their obfuscatory academic writing styles.

A close reading of one exemplary verse, the opening verse from Gucci’s “Booty Shorts,” reveals the intricacy of Gucci’s theoretical tapestry. From a cursory examination of this classic verse, one might conclude that “Booty Shorts” is simply a derivative song objectifying women’s asses; upon closer inspection, however, what emerges is a linguistic and theoretical tour-de-force.

This verse underscores the socially constructed nature of gender, serves up a radical critique of the mindless consumption and dehumanizing sexist exploitation of female bodies that define the ethos of late capitalism, and uses subversive language to (re)claim the female subject position. And the verse does all of these things through the medium of African American folk dialect.

“Booty Shorts”

I don't holla at girls, girls holla at me
I don't throw dollars at girls, they throw dollars at me

Gucci wastes no time. He opens by explicitly inverting the traditional gender roles in which men pursue women. In his world, women are aggressive and vocal, while Gucci becomes their object of desire. Furthermore, he reverses the common practice of men objectifying and commodifying female sexuality. Here Gucci acts as the stripper being exploited by women. As will become clear later in the verse, these inversions are, in fact, subversions, as Gucci promblematizes and unsettles traditional relationships of gender, sex, consumption, and capitalist labor.

“Gucci you conceited,” Bitch, I might be
Cause my chain so bright Stevie Wonder might see

When an unnamed woman accuses Gucci of possessing a trait that is typically considered feminine, Gucci entertains the idea. Recall too that Gucci Mane’s moniker, much like Kanye West’s (the Louis Vuitton Don), comes from his penchant for wearing designer labels, thus mocking rap’s hypermasulinity by embracing signifiers of dandy pomp and gay fashion. Moreover, their designer fetish is itself a sarcastic shot at the absurdity of excessive consumerism.

Contemporaries Camron and Charles Hamilton unabashedly wearing pink, and self-identified heterosexual Lil’ Wayne greeting his heterosexual male mentor with passionate kisses are also part of a promising trend of rappers combating the rampant misogyny and homophobia in rap by forging ambiguous queer masculine personae.

The word “Bitch” in these lines is not an expression of misogyny. In using it, Gucci refashions the word as a symbol of feminist agency over language. He challenges the unnamed woman to act like a reconstituted “bitch” who embraces the rhetorical destruction of rigid man/woman binaries.

Yeah, you got a man but ya man ain't me

As the verse progresses, Gucci is becoming more explicit in his subversive critique of gender. In this line, Gucci denaturalizes manhood by noting the distinction between his unique manner of performing masculinity and that of another man.

Add ya whole life savings times three
The mo’ and the dro and the clothes ain't free
So you gotta be a dimepiece to approach me

Not only do these lines reveal that Gucci is great at multiplication, they comprise a sharp parody of mindless capitalist consumption. In them, Gucci lays bare the twisted notion of women’s commodified value in our society—a value based strictly on a crude materialism that reduces women to their bodies and burdens women with unrealistic standards of beauty.

How much 'unh’ can one girl take
How many cakes can one man bake?

In this context, “unh” refers to penis. For Gucci, this rhetorical question is not a macho sexual boast; it is a nod to radical lesbian feminist awakening. Another way of framing the question is, how much rapacious male sexuality must a woman endure before she rebels against hegemonic patriarchy and becomes a fully realized, liberated human being?

An alternate version of the second line has Gucci asking “how much cake [i.e. money] can one man make?” This alternate question’s proximity to the previous one links liberation from patriarchal norms to liberation from the capitalist drive for greed and acquisition. Gucci’s choice to stress a man’s cake baking instead suggests that he preferred to stay with the theme of subversive gender acts, in this case, a man engaging in domestic labor, a realm traditionally associated with (or thrust upon) women.

Playa on the real?, man I don't know
I just love it when they fresh and they ass cheeks show

The first line sees Gucci questioning his own player status in a moment of existential self-consciousness. He expresses doubt about whether he is the player that hetero male culture demands he be. In doing so, Gucci again calls into question the default position that sex and gender are synonymous.

One can easily read the second line as an suggesting attraction to both male and female bodies, further upsetting the heteronormative order. The use of the plural pronoun “they [they’re]” and of “they [their]" here is ambiguous—these gender-neutral terms could refer to women or to leather boys.

Also notable is Gucci’s sex-positive feminist attitudes. Though he is destabilizing hetero patriarchy, he nonetheless appreciates the beauty and sensuality of the human body, male and/or female.

Everybody stare when I walk in the room

Gucci, who has donned a queered male/feminized persona, is now subject to the penetrating male gaze. However, what is normally an oppressive burden becomes an empowering political act in Gucci’s subversive feminist hall of mirrors. Gucci wrests the power from the hetero male gaze, rendering his own body a site of contestation, thus forcing those watching this spectacle to confront the fluidity and performativity of gender.

Smokin on purp got me high like the moon
Chain front big like its New Year's Eve
But my Rollie on fire like the first day of June

These final lines are dense and complex, but they reflect Gucci’s theoretical approach better than any of the verse’s lines. A seemingly pedestrian marijuana reference (“Smokin on purp”) may actually be an ode to purple, a color long associated with androgyny.

Gucci concludes the verse with mentions of two informal holidays. The first is New Years Eve, whose bacchanalian celebrations are defined by lowered inhibitions, i.e. flouting social norms. And “the first day of June” is likely a reference to the anticipation of Juneteenth. The latter holiday’s celebration of the (belated) end of slavery is the perfect metaphor for Gucci’s liberation from oppressive patriarchal gender roles.

Since Gucci probably hasn’t undergone advanced study, it’s amazing and wonderful that he has come to write with such theoretical depth. Gucci’s raw outsider theory is a testament to how resourceful black folks can be. They often possess an authentic innate wisdom that no amount of reading and formal study can provide.

What we have in Gucci Mane is a national treasure, the kind of visceral thinker and writer the world only sees once in a generation. Doubters, I implore you not to repeat my mistake. It is to your own detriment to ignore Gucci’s prodigious talents. Mark my words: this man will be transforming the way we think about language and the intersection of race, class, and gender for years to come.